Erica Romero is enamored with her adapted hometown of Astoria, Queens.The location is perfect—her parents live on Long Island, and she can commute easily to Manhattan for her job here at Viacom. She appreciates the neighborhood’s vibrant mix of old and young residents, of quaint old-world charm and trendy new culture.
“Basically it’s just everything you can imagine is in this really small space,” said Romero, who’s been an Astoria resident for four years now and doesn’t plan on leaving anytime soon.
Romero and her best friend, Michelle Schultz, decided to pay homage to their beloved community by launching the Instagram account@AStoryofAstoria two years ago. While neither Romero nor Schultz are professional photographers – Romero works in Viacom’s Human Resources department, while Schultz is a professional makeup artist – they’ve developed a knack for curating the most scenic snapshots of their town, whether it’s funky street art or a beatific rooftop sunset.
The project began as a way to give the public an insider view at Astoria’s hidden gems. Now, with more than 10,000 followers, the account has evolved into a tool for Romero and Schultz to give back to the community they love so dearly. Once companies started offering promotions, the girls knew they could use online presence for something big. Rather than make money for themselves, however, they wanted to raise it for a local charity.
In the fall of 2015, Romero began scouring the Internet for local charities. She found one called Urban Upbound, which helps underprivileged Astoria residents find jobs by providing resume skills and interview preparation.
The duo reached out to Urban Upbound’s Astoria branch via Instagram and let them know they’d like to throw a fundraiser. The organization gratefully agreed.
Then came the challenge of making their vision a reality.
“There’s no guidebook for how to start a fundraiser,” said Romero. “No one tells you how to do this. I think a lot of the skills I have from Viacom helped me. I run events like Thursday Think. Knowing what it takes to make an event successful definitely helped me with that.”
Romero had to find a venue, determine its capacity, and market the event. The team worked on a tight schedule so that they could host the fundraiser around the holidays, then just a few months away.
Romero found a graphic designer online within their budget to create graphics for online marketing. She and Schultz chose to throw the fundraiser at local brewery Singlecut Beersmiths and sell tickets for $30. The event included a tasting of neighborhood fare and a beer. One of Romero’s friends dressed up as Santa, and the girls found small businesses willing to donate gift baskets for a raffle. Lucky winners took home treats from Astoria Bier and Cheese, The Brass Owl, and The Little Soap Shop, among other local establishments. All proceeds went to Urban Upbound.
@AStoryofAstoria’s first fundraiser was a hit, with tickets selling out early in the evening. Romero was pleased with the overwhelming support she received from her community. Now, she and Schultz want to make it an annual affair.
Romero has always been savvy when it comes to helping people. As a student in the competitive School of Management program at Binghamton University, she started Googling “parts of a business.” Human Resources piqued her interest. She went out of her way to seek out opportunities to learn about HR, including applying to Viacom’s internship program. She was accepted, and was hired as an HR coordinator after graduating in 2011. She has been an HR manager since 2015.
“It’s always been a part of who I am,” said Romero. “Talking to people and figuring out what gets them going. That’s what I do with HR. Solve problems and try to use my communication skills for the better.”
Now that @AStoryofAstoria has hit 10,000 followers and held its first official community event, Romero continues to use her creative outlet as a voice to engage the community. She looks for photos to re-post that have history, and show off lesser-known areas of Astoria that deserve attention. Perhaps it’s a small mom-and-pop shop that has been in the neighborhood for 40 years, but is in jeopardy of losing its lease because of rising rent.
“Obviously it’s great to see pictures, but if I can have a little bit of influence in changing the scheme of things, I’d like to do that,” said Romero.
Now in its 20th year Viacommunity, our social responsibility umbrella, has become more than just something we do – it is part of who we are, a core value of our company. To underscore how deeply embedded giving back is to our identity, Viacom is profiling 20 employees who embody the Viacommunity spirit in their everyday lives.